Architectural detail of window arches on Old South Church in Boston

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Unhealthy, Unsafe, Unneeded: Weymouth Compressor Station

By the OSC Climate Change Task Force Communications Group

Environmental Justice (EJ) is based on the principle that all people have a right to be protected from environmental pollution and to live in a clean and healthful environment. EJ is the fair treatment and the meaningful involvement of all people with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws and policies and the equitable distribution of environmental benefits. Our state government subscribes to this principle. 

This principle is being sorely tested right now.  Enbridge, a Canadian energy delivery company, wants to build a compressor station in Weymouth, a South Shore suburb, 18 miles from Boston.  A compressor station increases pressure in a pipeline to improve gas flow.  In the Weymouth case, it is part of an expansion of the natural gas network bringing “fracked” natural gas into New England for the primary purpose of exporting it to Europe and other parts of the world; it is not needed for the energy needs of Massachusetts or New England. 

Local activists have been protesting the construction of this compressor station in the Fore River Basin for five years.  Although court challenges continue, construction has begun and the level of protest has risen sharply.  In December 2019 ten protestors were arrested during two actions to block construction.  Two of them were members of the clergy—the Rev. Gretchen Elmendorf, pastor of the East Weymouth Congregational (UCC) Church and the Rev. Betsy Sowers, Minister for Earth Justice, at the Old Cambridge Baptist Church in Cambridge.

Opposition to the building of the plant has galvanized the environmental and faith communities.  It is based on three main concerns—health, safety, and the expansion of the fossil fuel infrastructure. 

There are a number of health risks.  The soil and groundwater around the site are already contaminated with heavy metals and oil-based chemicals like benzine.  These chemicals are associated with cancer and cardiovascular disease; by digging into the ground to construct the compressor station, these contaminants can be released into the air and water.  The people living in this area already have high levels of asthma and other diseases and the disturbing of the soil during construction and release of these air-born toxins can only make the situation worse. Residents will also be exposed to increased levels of background noise which can be associated with various illnesses. 

The primary safety risk is that Weymouth is densely populated. If an explosion or any other kind of accident could occur, emergency response could be difficult, due to the need to evacuate large numbers of people within a short period of time.  The mayors of Weymouth and nearby towns like Quincy and Braintree all oppose the compressor station.  So do Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, Congressman Stephen Lynch, and Attorney General Maura Healy.  The Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility opposes the project, as does the UCC’s Massachusetts Environmental Ministries Team.

Overriding all this is the issue of increasing the efficiency of fossil fuel capacity and infrastructure in this time of climate crisis.  To borrow loosely from the movie Field of Dreams, if you build it, they will use it.  And keep using it.  Today, we are talking about a Green New Deal.  We are talking about zero carbon emissions.  We should not be talking about greater fossil fuel capacity.

Compelled by our own faith commitments and in support of those who bravely speak out for environmental justice, on December 12, 2019, the Climate Change Task Force Steering Committee of Old South Church voted to oppose the Weymouth Compressor station. 

Members of our committee will be attending the gathering on Monday, January 27, at 10 AM at the Quincy Point Congregational Church, 444 Washington St, Quincy to support the Fore River residents in their struggle against the compressor. After gathering at the church participants will carpool to the compressor station site for multi-faith song, prayer, and procession.  All are invited to join us.

As the Rev. Betsy Sowers, one of the two clergy arrested in the December 11 protest at Weymouth put it, “I am here today because my faith compels it.  Christians are in the midst of Advent, the season of anticipating One who will bring down proud and powerful empires, lift up the lowly, and send the rich away empty (Luke1:31-32).  As a faith leader, I am called to follow Jesus’ example: to expose and oppose destructive empires, and to invite people to join in creating a new order with love of neighbor and defense of the vulnerable at the center.”   We echo Rev. Sowers’s words and support those who fight for environmental justice.